Cambodia’s Best Motorbike Trips | 3 Incredible Adventures in the Kingdom of Wonder

Man sits on rock overlooking hills and cloud on Bokor Mountain

With a majority of the country unexplored by travellers, hopping on a motorbike is the perfect way to access the parts of Cambodia many people miss. From hidden temples and green rice fields to incredible smoky sunsets and abandoned hill stations, you won’t want to miss these rides.

Unfortunately a number of Cambodia’s roads are either heavily trafficked or heavily potholed. That said, if you’re willing to go the extra mile, there are three motorbike journeys in the country you should miss only at your own peril.

With the expansion of tourism, it’s easy (and cheap) to rent a motorbike in any of these locations. I’ve always been a lucky passenger on these trips, as I have yet to master the art of riding a bike myself. If you aren’t comfortable renting your own bike and going at it solo, drop me a line in the comments below and I can recommend someone in the area as a driver.

Now, it’s time to motorbike Cambodia!

Girl wearing backpack looks out at sunset in Mondulkiri

Motorbike Cambodia's Hidden Temples

Siem Reap Town to Beng Mealea, Siem Reap Province

Distance: ~140km roundtrip

This full day temple outing is worth the layer of dust you’ll end up covered in. You’ll be rewarded with solo adventuring at some of Angkor Wat’s most incredible outlying hidden temples. Leaving the tourist mania of Siem Reap town, you’ll soon be surrounded by the real charm of Siem Reap province. Pass by tiny roadside towns selling fresh fruit, admire the green rice fields stretching as far as the eye can see, and take in the country’s signature red dusty roads. 
 

Start your day of adventuring early in the morning to avoid the midday heat. First up on the temple tour is tiny Banteay Ampil, 35km east of Siem Reap town. When I visited in 2018, the only road access was a tiny dirt single track that was often too muddy/washed out to use in the rainy season. I know there were plans to build a larger road in this area so it may be a different journey to get there when you visit. Ask a local in the area before you rent a motorbike and head out here. 

Once you arrive, you should have tiny Banteay Ampil to yourself. This temple is located outside of the Angkor Wat complex and apart from a few boards propped haphazardly to hold up stray stones, the temple is beautifully unrestored. The trees entangling the crumbling stones are incredible. It’s easily my favourite temple in Cambodia for these reasons.

Banteay Ampil

Carry on from Banteay Ampil another 30km in the direction of Beng Mealea. You’ll past rice fields and school children biking the dirt roads to get to class. Beng Mealea is where your big exploration off the bike continues. If you avoid the big tour buses, you’ll usually only see a handful of other people at this temple and you can largely explore it in solitude. It can take around 2-3 hours if you allow yourself to get lost in Beng Mealea’s beautiful dark corridors. Watch out for snakes!

It used to cost just $5 to visit Beng Mealea, however as of 2020 the temple is now included in the regular Angkor Wat admission fee and you will need a full pass. Check out this site before you visit for the latest information on tickets.

Hop on your bike for the long road home, making sure to stop for a coconut and some mangosteens or rambutans at one of the roadside markets to keep your sugar levels up for your motorbike ride home. 

Renting a bike: Expect to pay $10 for a basic bike or more for a dirt bike rental in Siem Reap town. 

Lady walks along path in hidden temples of Siem Reap

Sunset Hills Motorbike Ride

Sen Monorom to Andong Sne, Mondulkiri Province

Distance: 40km roundtrip

Winding through Cambodia’s wild eastern province of Mondulkiri, the 20km road from capital Sen Monorom to Andong Sne is freshly paved, largely devoid of traffic, and, simply put, stunning. You’ll pass by pine forests and hills that turn golden as the sun sets. It’s nothing short of magical, but this road is also bittersweet.

It used to have far more forest coverage than it does today. In spite of the fact that the majority of Mondulkiri province is designated as protected area, illegal logging in the area is strikingly evident. It’s part of what makes this drive so powerful. It’s a reminder of the fragility of our planet and our responsibility to do better as humans. 

Take a pit stop at “Build Love” Hill for a sunset view, and then carry on back to Sen Monorom town for dinner. It’s not a long day on the bike, but it’s a beautiful sunset ride.

Mondulkiri road at sunset

For the more adventurous, add on a trip to Bousra Waterfall earlier in the day (80km roundtrip from Sen Monorom). This road was under construction when I visited and made for a bumpy ride. I would easily say it was still worth it to see the stunning waterfalls waiting there.

Renting a bike: You can rent a motorbike in town for around 5-7 USD per day.

Tales from the Banana Trail

Cambodia's Misty Mountain Motorbike Ride

Bokor Mountain, Kampot Province

Distance: 80-100km roundtrip

If you’re craving an escape from Cambodia’s heat, Bokor is your dream motorbike destination. Base yourself in the relaxed haven of Kampot town and rent a motorbike to head to Bokor Mountain for the day. Once you enter the park, a recently repaved road awaits and it makes for a lovely snaking drive up to the top of the mountain surrounded by trees on either side. Once you get above the clouds, you’ll see a large Buddha which makes for a good pit stop to stretch those driving legs. 

Man sits on rock overlooking hills and cloud on Bokor Mountain

Carrying onwards, you’ll pass swan paddle boats on the mountain’s lake, a seemingly out of place casino, and an old church. If you’re into ghost stories and time travel, stop at the old hill station for a quaint high tea experience in the often deserted old building. Alternatively, bring a picnic from one of the great restaurants in Kampot, and stop at Popokvil Waterfall to eat your lunch at the waterfall (which is at its most impressive during rainy season).

Head back down the winding road into Kampot town for a dinner at one of the town’s amazing restaurants.

Renting a bike: A full day costs $5-7 USD at any guesthouse in Kampot. 

Man sits on waterfall near Kampot, Cambodia

Ha Giang Loop | The complete guide to motorbiking Ha Giang

Man Motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop

If you’re seeking an epic adventure, Vietnam’s Ha Giang Loop should be at the very top of your bucket list on a trip to Southeast Asia. This motorbike loop takes you across 400km of dizzying roads that wind their way through limestone mountains, dropping steeply off to deep turquoise rivers often concealed under a blanket of mist.  

Located in the most northern section of Vietnam bordering China, Ha Giang province is the place to go to escape the heavily pounded Banana Pancake Trail, admire some of Vietnam’s finest landscapes, and bask in the kindness of the country’s ethnic minority groups.

The area is best explored by renting a motorbike in Ha Giang city and completing the infamous “Loop” of 4 days and 3 nights. With winding roads and unpredictable weather, driving here is sure to satisfy your appetite for adventure.

** Some of the links in this post may be affiliate links. If you click one of the links and make a purchase we’ll earn a small commission at no cost to you. Just like the travel backpacks we build, we’re very particular about products and we only recommend products, services, or accommodation we trust and use ourselves.*** 

Man Motorbiking the Ha Giang Loop

How to long does it take to motorbike the Ha Giang Loop?

The length of the Ha Giang loop is up to your timeframe. You can cut off sections and complete it in 3 days or shorten your days on the bike to make it 5 days. However, most travellers choose to do it in 4 days and 3 nights, which is the itinerary I’ll cover here.

How to get to Ha Giang

From Hanoi, hop on a night bus to Ha Giang city to save precious travel time. The trip takes around 6-7 hours. Note that if you do take a night bus, you will often arrive in the very early morning, so it may be worth getting a bed to crash in when you arrive in Ha Giang. 

 

You can also travel from Sapa to Ha Giang which will take between 7-8 hours.

How to rent a motorbike in Ha Giang

Ha Giang is well groomed for motorbike rental. Bong Hostel rents great and new motorbikes (plus helmets and padding to protect your elbows and knees!). The staff will also provide you with their phone number in case you have any issues with your bike on the road and need roadside assistance or repair. If you’re new to riding a semi-automatic bike, they’ll also give you a tutorial so you feel comfortable hitting the roads. Depending on where you rent your bike, it will cost around 150,000 Vietnamese dong per day. 

And if you aren’t comfortable riding your own bike? Find a travel buddy who is a more experienced driver and willing to take you on the back of their bike. Alternatively, you can also hire a driver from the area to really enjoy a safe and relaxed ride. 

What to pack for motorbiking the Ha Giang loop

Leave your big pack (maybe your Khmer Explorer Travel Set) at your Ha Giang hostel and bring only the essentials:

    • A small day pack like Kiri
    • A backpack cover or wet/dry bag for your valuables like Kiri’s No Sugar Kit – the rain can be torrential on this loop!
    • Poncho for inevitable downpour days 
    • Sunscreen
    • First aid kit (including antiseptic, bandages, and ibuprofen) 
    • Clothes for 4 days – be sure to bring a sweater for the evenings, long pants and long-sleeved shirts to protect your skin from the sun and road rash
    • Running shoes
    • Toiletries 
    • Offline map app on your phone like maps.me
    • Phone charger/power bank
    • Reusable water bottle and Steripen (for purification)
    • Your hostel’s phone number in case you have any motorbike issues

Other essentials for the Ha Giang Loop

Vietnam Visa

Visas for Vietnam require some advanced planning.  Refer to this post on Visa on arrival/e-visas for Vietnam for all the details. 

Travel Insurance

You’ll be motorbiking or riding on the back of one. Comprehensive travel insurance is an absolute must! Check out World Nomads for comprehensive coverage including high adventure activities like motorbiking or get a quote below. 

Best season to motorbike Ha Giang

Vietnam’s dry season, October-April, is usually the best time for the loop. I visited in April and the road was starting to get pretty slick with rain, which increases the danger of driving here.

Where to stay in Ha Giang

Ha Giang – Bong Hostel – I highly recommend staying at and renting bikes from the lovely staff at Bong Hostel (which actually means flower in Vietnamese, I learned). The beds here are incredibly soft compared to the rock hard ones you will find in most of Ha Giang province. The hostel also offers an incredible family dinner under a beautiful paper-leaf tree in its adjacent restaurant. When you rent a bike here you’ll get equipped with a map and helmet, plus knee, wrist, and elbow pads you can wear to combat any potential road rash on The Loop. 

Yen Minh – Tom Homestay Tom’s is a staple spot on The Loop. The shared accommodation features large double mattresses on the floor, each with an individual mosquito net and warm blanket. The family dinner at Tom’s is delicious and, vegetarians rejoice, there are a lot of vegetable dishes to enjoy!

Meo Vac – Mr Hung Meo Vac Hotel – I stayed at Mr Hung Meo Vac Hotel, which had the hardest beds I have ever encountered on my travels, but the incredible view from the balcony really made up for the lack of sleep. Click here to check out places in Meo Vac.

Du Gia – Homestay or Hostel – There are only three places to stay in Du Gia: two homestays and a hostel. It’s thus wise to book ahead before you get here. All of these are excellent with wonderful family dinners served in the evening. The town itself is a simple street cut into the striking landscape. 

Homestay Ha Giang Loop

Itinerary for the Ha Giang Loop

Day 1 - Ha Giang to Yen Minh (~100km)

The city of Ha Giang is the logical starting point for the Extreme North Loop. After you rent your bike and fill up with gas, be sure to stop for a delicious raspberry smoothie in town at King’s Coffee before you hit the road. After a sugar kick, you should be ready to set out on the 100km journey to the town of Yen Minh. Only five minutes out of Ha Giang, the countryside unfolds in front of you and the incredible views of the next four days begin. 

Stop for lunch in the town of Tam Son (also called Quan Ba) and once you reach Yen Minh, navigate your way to Tom Homestay. 

Girl looks out at rice terraces in northern Vietnam

Day 2 - Yen Minh to Meo Vac via Lung Cu (~120km)

After a night at Tom Homestay, set out from Yen Minh for the most northern point in Vietnam, Lung Cu. At the time we visited, the road to get to Lung Cu was undergoing significant construction and it was one of the dodgiest patches to navigate on a bike. Once you finally arrive here, you can stretch your legs by climbing to the top of a tower with a famous Vietnamese flag pole and lookout over both China and Vietnam. Be sure to stop along the way to look out over the incredible terraces. 

 

After getting your view fix at Lung Cu, you can end your day in Dong Van or press on through the famous Ma Pi Leng Pass to reach Meo Vac. Meo Vac is a more scenic place to stay than Dong Van, although it has fewer food options. 

The Ma Pi Leng pass itself is an epic 22km pass that stretches from Dong Van to Meo Vac. Cut precariously into the limestone karst mountains and dropping off to the river below, Ma Pi Leng provides some of the most breathtaking views in Ha Giang province and it’s the stretch of road most people go on the Loop to see. While it may not be called the Death Road, this road can be slick and dangerous when it rains, so do be careful here.

View of Ma Pi Leng Pass

Day 3 - Meo Vac to Du Gia (~80km)

The journey from Meo Vac to the tiny village of Du Gia is easily the most beautiful day on the bike. With incredible views of rice terraces, ethnic minority villages, and old French hill station ruins, this is the day to take your time and experience Ha Giang at its finest. 

The town itself is a simple street cut into the striking landscape. Be prepared for a lot of rice wine and karaoke on this final evening in tiny Du Gia. 

Market Du Gia

Day 4 - Du Gia to Ha Giang (~80km)

In the morning, you’ll often find a market happening along the main street. With all sorts of fruit, traditional dresses, and animals for sale, it’s a fascinating experience. The final day of biking is a long haul back to Ha Giang. You’ll cross a number of rather precarious looking bridges on your way and can stop in Quan Ba for lunch once again. Once you reach Ha Giang, pat yourself on the back for making it safely (we hope!) and treat yourself to another smoothie. 

Empty Road on Ha Giang Loop

8,000 kilometres on motorbike from Malawi to Egypt with Arianna

Simien Mountains_Ethiopia

As someone who has yet to master more than sitting awkwardly on the back of a motorbike for a 4 day trip in northern Vietnam, I was immediately in awe of Arianna Meschia. This is a woman who uprooted her life in England to move to Malawi, then did it once again when she set off on an 8,000 kilometre motorbike journey through Eastern Africa. Yet it wasn’t only her own narrative that captivated me. It was the nuanced narratives of those she met along the way and how she shares these uplifting stories we too infrequently get to hear about many of the countries in East Africa. Countless stories and two burnt knees later, Arianna (virtually) sat down with me to share her own story, and it’s one you don’t want to miss.

Moving to Malawi, 'The Warm Heart of Africa'

Arianna started her bold adventure in 2017. Recovering from heartbreak, stressed out with her job and life in London, she took a deep breath and booked a one-way ticket from England to Malawi. Then she held that same breath for the reaction of her Italian family. “From an Italian perspective to say I’m going to give this up and do something else, they think it’s crazy!” Arianna, however, had done her research and was prepared for this wild adventure. She set herself up in a volunteer position for 6 months in Malawi with an organization she knew firsthand was doing impactful and legitimate work. She had first visited Malawi in 2015 and it had changed her perspective entirely. “I think actually stepping outside of Europe was massive. To see that you were a tiny part of things. I knew it on a rational, intellectual level, but I learned it on an emotional level a lot more. And so I think that’s why Malawi stayed in my heart so much. It was the first place where I had that understanding. It helps that Malawi is an absolute gem of a place. There is a lake, stunning mountains, loads of hikes, safari, and it is a lot cheaper than a lot of other African destinations because it is still very much off the radar. Recently there have been a few bits of rioting and unrest around elections held in May and accusations of meddling with the results. But it’s the first instance of widespread political violence since the end of the dictatorship in ‘94. They are really peaceful people. Really, really helpful. There’s a real wanting to help out and making sure the guest has a good experience in Malawi. Malawians themselves call Malawi ‘The Warm Heart of Africa’. That’s the nickname the country has gotten.”

Challenging the current narrative

After basing herself in Malawi for 6 months, she began to look at what she really wanted to do longer term career-wise. What she wanted her own narrative to be. 

“I was going around finding stories to write on my blog. These quirky little stories, there are plenty of them out there. I didn’t have a particular aim, I just wanted to share what I saw, what I experienced. And I found that’s really what I wanted to do. Going off and finding people’s stories. Reports on real people living real lives. 

In the African context I think that’s even more important because most of what you see about the African narrative is poverty, dictatorships, terrorism, and immigration.  Whereas there are a million things happening in African countries that do not pertain to any of those categories. I guess in a way my little contribution, and this is something I am still working on, is trying to share these little stories as widely as possible. 

So I thought obviously my blog is all well and good, there’s probably 20 people reading it I don’t know, but let’s try to do something better than that. That’s why I’m now trying to make travel writing work.”

A motorbike adventure - And two burnt knees

This desire to find and share new narratives coincided with her decision to set off on a not so small overland adventure. She would travel from Malawi to Egypt on a motorbike with her South African boyfriend for four months. 

“From Southern Malawi where we started to the end in Alexandria, Egypt, was according to Google Maps, 7,962 km, close to 8,000 km. But definitely we travelled more. There’s back and forth and getting lost. By the end I was quite fed up of being on a motorbike! It was 47 degrees most of the time in Sudan. We had to travel between 3 or 4 in the morning until 8 or 9 in the morning. By 5am the light would start to come up, by 6 the sun was over the horizon, and by 7 it was 38 degrees. You’re wearing a helmet and bike jacket and it’s very hot. 

It was my own fault as well, I didn’t have the appropriate clothing. I was wearing just black tight jeans. I burnt my knees through my trousers. It was quite painful. I definitely went into it without analyzing things massively. I didn’t consider the heat that much.”

“Bad news sells. If you sit at home and watch the news, you’ll think it’s the apocalypse. That we’re destroying ourselves.

Bad news sells

 What do you find when you motorbike through Eastern Africa? Not what we would be led to believe, Arianna shared with me. The stories that people had shared with her inspired her and they shaped her desire to tell them even more.

“Bad news sells. If you sit at home and watch the news, you’ll think it’s the apocalypse. That we’re destroying ourselves. When actually that is one thing happening, and then there is the complete opposite of that and there are plenty of examples that just haven’t been shared as much.

In Ethiopia I had an interview with an amazing 96-year-old woman who was basically the first fashion designer in Ethiopia back in the ‘60s. She had her own fashion label and 20 men sewing for her. She was like an absolute feminist icon. We met at an event. That was it! 

I go up to someone if I find their story amazing and just tell them. I don’t know if it will go anywhere, but I ask them if they want to have a chat.”

A tiny bomb scare

But what about the bad news? I asked her if she had any dicey experiences on her journey.

“For the most part it was really okay. There was a tiny, tiny bomb scare in Giza the following day after we went. There was a device that exploded and shattered the glass of a tourist bus and as a result 25, South Africans I think, got really scared. No one got hurt. That happened the day after we’d been there. At that point everything becomes very real. You become super aware. 

I think it’s super important we don’t let them take over our lives because these things happen very rarely. Most days there are no terrorist attacks. This puts things in perspective – in the 7 or 8 years I lived in London there were 3 or 4 terrorist attacks, something like that. You have to be aware about things that could happen and make sure you don’t put yourself specifically in the situation where those things could happen. Obviously no one could predict a terrorist attack. But you can’t let things stop you from living the life you want to lead.”

Giza Egypt

The center of your world

So after 8,000km, two burnt knees, and countless stories shared with her of real people living real lives, what has Arianna learned about human nature?

“As much as you don’t like to think you’re the center of your world, you are the center of your world in a way. It’s normal. We’re human beings. We like to be happy. And every one of us does different things that make us happy or fulfilled. But when you travel you understand that everyone is doing just that. Everyone is trying to get along day by day, doing the best they can.”

Arianna isn’t planning to stop anytime soon on her quest for stories. She will be joining her boyfriend in South Africa at the end of October and plans to do more travelling and story hunting there. While I can’t begin to predict who she’ll meet along the way, I know without a doubt the stories she finds will continue to help us challenge the narratives we’ve come to expect.

You can follow along with Arianna’s adventures (and her photos featured throughout this post) on her blog or Instagram